An elaborate network of interconnecting tunnels used by Viet Cong Soldiers during the Vietnam War; the Cu Chi Tunnels are a symbol of the ingenuity and resilience of the Vietnamese people. The Tunnels facilitated the use of guerrilla tactics in fighting, whilst also growing to house entire underground villages – complete with hospitals, kitchens and living quarters.
A popular addition to itineraries for travellers visiting Ho Chi Minh city, here is what to expect from a trip.
“And here we are!” Our guide beams, steadying himself in the minibus aisle as the driver jolts to a stop. Abandoning the minivan under the partial shade of a cluster of rubber trees, we make our way across the expanse of compacted dust to the reception building. Our guide quickly herds us through the gift shop, before handing us tickets to be checked at the turnstiles ahead.
Emerging from a lengthy entrance tunnel, we are immediately met by a number of thatched huts surrounded by forest. The rubber trees grow much denser here than those around the car park – the atmosphere a far cry from a typical open-air museum.
The first segment of the tour involves an introductory black and white video in one of these huts. In the summer heat, this is a welcome opportunity – especially since the huts are equipped with fans.
The remainder of the tour takes place along a faint forest trail, which our group begins to follow our guide along once the video finishes. He pauses occasionally between attractions to point out obscure and genius creations – “A termite mound, right? Wrong! This is an air vent, disguised so the Americans won’t suspect the Viet Cong soldiers are underground.”. It is impossible not to be immersed in and fascinated by the tunnel’s history.
Despite tunnels available for entry as part of the tour being enlarged for foreigners, there is still an opportunity try and enter through a real entrance. At 5ft3, I had no issues fitting in to the tunnel. My 6ft and broad boyfriend managed to get stuck for an extremely awkward 10 seconds. This is a must try for anyone visiting the Cu Chi tunnels!
The Vietnamese not only built the tunnels, but also recycled materials from objects such as unexploded bombs to make their own weapons! Examples of recycled materials are shown to tourists in a hut styled as a workshop of the time. A series of traps were also left for American soldiers, now replicated and labelled as part of the Cu Chi Tunnels’ tour.
Entering the purposefully widened tunnel network had been the aspect of the tour I had been looking forward to the most. The tunnel has 5 exits at 20 metre intervals – so I would encourage those who may be nervous to attempt at least one section. Although, if you are claustrophobic, be prepared for the tunnel to be narrow, dark and damp – which can make the crawl slightly uncomfortable.
For our part, we loved the tunnel experience. It was surprisingly hot and felt quite stifling, however, once I relaxed this eased a little.
Once the group had reassembled, we continued through the forest towards the sound of gunfire. Arriving at a open plan wooden giftshop, we were given the opportunity to purchase bullets to fire from a series of guns.
For approximately £30 we shot 10 bullets from an AK-47 – split between a backpacker from Adelaide, my boyfriend and I. Whilst there is some controversy surrounding whether or not you should fire guns as a tourist in Asia, I found the experience to be exhilarating and well worth the money. This may be something you wish to research prior to visiting.
Without a shadow of doubt, the Cu Chi Tunnels were the highlight of our trip to Ho Chi Minh City. Personally, I found that unique cultural experiences were harder to find in Ho Chi Minh as such a booming modern city. The Cu Chi Tunnels certainly compensated for this.
How to visit
Approximately 60 kilometres outside of Ho Chi Minh City, the Cu Chi Tunnels are accessible by bus for those who want to visit independently. However, this is quite ambitious, hence why most tourists opt to visit through a group tour (myself included). Tickets for tours can be found online on websites such as: Viator, Getyourguide and TripAdvisor. Prices average at around £10 and tend to include entrance fees, pick-up and drop off, a tour guide and a bottle of mineral water. Alternatively, tours can be booked through local tourist information shops once you arrive in Ho Chi Minh.
When to visit
Ho Chi Minh City is likely best visited between December and March – Southern Vietnam’s dry season. Although this period coincides with ‘Tet’, Vietnam’s Lunar New Year, so be aware many shops and attractions will be closed on these dates. The tunnels themselves are open 8am-5pm every day.